The Lazers, who want to be contenders some day for the Major Indoor Soccer League championship, may have discovered Saturday how far they are from that goal.
The San Diego Sockers, noted as the league's top team, played at what they considered to be about 65% of their ability and still beat the Lazers, 3-2, in front of 6,189 fans at the Forum.
Even in defeat, Lazer Coach Peter Wall figured it was one of his team's best efforts of the season. "I thought we deserved to win the game," he said. "San Diego is the best team in the league. We went out and did as well as we could."
The Lazers are not alone in their frustrations. San Diego has been on a roll virtually all season, building a 35-11 record, and clinched a home-field advantage for the entire playoffs by winning Saturday. Even so, their players were far from satisfied.
"I think we are playing at about 60 to 70% of what we should," Socker defender Kevin Crow said. "We have to start turning things around more. Look at what Villanova did to Georgetown."
No Cinderella team has done anything like that to San Diego in the last three seasons. The Sockers have won three straight indoor championships, two in the North American Soccer League and one in the MISL.
The Lazers (23-22) have clinched a playoff berth, but even more is at stake. They are currently third in the Western Division, and the top three teams in the division draw a bye the first round of the playoffs.
If the Lazers get caught by fourth-place Wichita, they can blame some of it on San Diego goalkeeper Zoltan Toth.
Toth was named defensive star of Saturday's game after making 20 saves, several on shots from point-blank range. Toth made seven saves just in the second quarter, when the Lazers outshot San Diego, 10-2.
"He came up with the big play on everything we did," Wall said. "I don't know what else we can do when we do everything right except get the ball past him. He was the difference. I thought he dominated the game."
San Diego started the scoring at 4:57 of the first quarter on Steve Zungul's league-leading 65th goal. Branko Segota scored his 60th goal for the Sockers at 13:12 of the quarter.
Kaz Deyna increased San Diego's lead to 3-0 at 10:59 of the second quarter, scoring on a power play off Zungul's corner kick.
The Lazers' only goal of the half was by Juan Cardenas at 14:29, after Toth had made saves on back-to-back shots.
After a scoreless third quarter, Cardenas nearly scored into an empty San Diego net early in the fourth quarter. However, Socker defender Fernando Clavijo kicked the ball aside at the last instant.
The Lazers pulled goalkeeper Tim Harris with 2:59 remaining in favor of an extra attacker. Cardenas scored with 2:19 left, but Toth could not be beaten again.